The 2018 Red Bull Fox Hunt

October 04 — 2018 | Machynlleth, Wales

How To Outrun a Fox with Tiffany Rhodes

 

 

I’m not a pro downhill racer, but this weekend I got to race five-time World Champion, Rachel Atherton. Okay, maybe ‘race’ isn’t the correct term. Technically, she hunted me down. But don’t worry – it wasn’t personal. It was all part of this year’s Red Bull Foxhunt in Machynlleth, Wales.

If you haven’t heard, every year Red Bull sponsors the biggest all-female downhill mountain bike competition in the world. It’s a reversal of the traditional British fox hunt so, in this case, the fox hunts the hounds. This race attracts 200 women of all ages and abilities with a shared love for riding downhill as fast as they can. This DH race is unique because everyone, except Rachel, sets off in a mass start. This produces a scene straight out of Game of Thrones as soldiers on bikes, dressed in red, storm down the field leaving crashes and carnage in their wake. Rachel (the fox) takes off soon after from her podium and hunts down as many riders (hounds) as possible while racing toward the finish line trying to leave us all in her wake.

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Juliana Bicycles Image
Tiffany Rhodes

Just a few hundred hardcore hounds ready to take on the Fox.

So the question on all of our minds was, can we actually outrun the ‘fox’?

For the past two years, the Fox Hunt has been in Machynlleth, Wales - a six-hour plane ride, plus a five-hour car ride from my home in the US. But what made this year special - and worth the jet lag - was the fact that this was Rachel’s first race after earning a record sixth World Cup overall, along with her fifth World Championship. It was a chance to spend the weekend riding downhill with like-minded women and to benchmark my skills against a true champion.

My road to Machynlleth was a little like the film Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. My flight departed on Thursday from the US, and arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland on Friday. There I was, met by old and new friends who had room for my Strega and I in their van. If you’ve never traveled with your bike, it can almost feel like you’re smuggling your best friend in your luggage with you. As I headed to the airport and handed my bike - neatly stowed in my bag - over to the ticket agent, it felt like my Strega and I were flying across the ocean together, embarking on an amazing adventure.

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Juliana Bicycles Image
Tiffany Rhodes

Iron Bru... fuel for the hounds

Once in Scotland, my friends picked me up, making room in their van for our bikes, camping and riding gear. This proved to be quite the team-building exercise, but we finally got it all to fit.  

The next leg of our journey was a road trip that would take us through England into Wales. It was a beautiful drive as we weaved through narrow country roads. The green mountains were covered in farmland and there was no shortage of sheep to count as I gazed out the window. After a 5-6 hour drive, we arrived at the event and set up camp - pumped for what the weekend was to bring. By now it was dark and chilly, but I felt right at home around the fire in the common area sipping on my first taste of Scottish whisky to keep warm.

As we awoke on Saturday, we were greeted with frost covered grass, crisp air, and pink, sun-soaked skies. There was also a warm breakfast, unlimited Red Bull, and masses of super- stoked ladies gearing up for their first practice runs. I loved how we all came together and became instant friends. And if you were lucky, you got to meet the rest of the Athertons, as well.

After a bunch of practice runs over the fast, steep, technical track, it was finally time for the seeding race. This race determined our starting positions for Sunday’s big event. It ran like a traditional downhill race with each participant racing down one at a time, trying to be the fastest one to the bottom. As we all journeyed to the top together, everyone admitted their nervousness about the seeding race, but Rachel kept telling us to smile because we couldn’t be nervous if we were smiling. And so I tried it out - and it works. Smiling is the key to a great race!

Finally, the race was upon us and we all gathered in the vans for one last haul to the top. We laughed our hearts out as people recalled last year’s epic fails. It was so refreshing to be heading to the startline of a race with no nervousness and apprehension because of the sense of community and partnership I felt with this group of women. This was a shared experience and everyone had each other’s backs and only wanted to have fun. The pressures of racing fell away as we laughed our way to the starting line.


And so the race begins

As the horn blasted, we all took off in what can only be described as complete chaos and total excitement. We all weaved in and out of each other gaining speed as we entered into the steep singletrack and gnarlier terrain. Half the battle of getting to the bottom was avoiding other riders, crashes, and riding lines we may not have practiced, all the while being pursued by the fox. Rachel was right on our heels.

She passed more than 120 riders, coming in 40th place. She almost caught us all, but somehow I managed to stay ahead of the fox and came in 29th overall.


 

So how do you outrun a fox?

Well first, you need a head start! Then, you need a lot of hounds behind you to slow that fox down. And finally, you need a badass bike that can rail through corners, fly over roots and rocks like they aren’t even there, and handle even the steepest descents.

And oh yeah, don’t forget to smile!

Rachel Atherton, the fox, in pursuit of the hounds.  

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